Monday, February 12, 2001

Sales tax questions can prove confusing

Even an 'expert' flunked this quiz

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Revenue Cabinet has a test for you: 25 questions about the Kentucky sales and use tax.

        “If you get 25, you get to become the next Revenue Cabinet secretary,” budget director James Ramsey told the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee last week. “If you get 20, you get a high-level job in the Revenue Cabinet. If you only get five, you get audited.”

        Mr. Ramsey, who has a doctorate in economics, allowed that he had taken the test — and failed.

        Here are some of the questions:

        • If you take your watch to the jeweler to have the battery changed, is the installation charge taxable?

        No. But the battery is subject to taxation.

        • Is the bottled water you bought at the grocery store taxable?

        Yes. But the crackers that you needed the water to wash down are exempt.

        • Arnie and Jack are heading out for a day of golfing. To sustain themselves, they stop for doughnuts. Arnie buys four and Jack gets eight. Because the doughnuts are food, which is exempt from the sales tax, the doughnuts are tax-free. True or false?

        It depends. The four doughnuts are considered a meal, consumed at one time, and therefore subject to tax. If you buy seven or more doughnuts, they are exempt from taxation because it is considered more than the quantity that constitutes a meal, even if all of the doughnuts are gobbled up on the spot.

        • At the golf course, the friends purchase an adult beverage to celebrate their round. And then a six-pack on the way home. Who pays tax?

        The drink consumed on the premises is taxable. The six-pack is not subject to the sales tax.

        • Mr. Gates goes to the computer superstore and buys a home computer. Mrs. Gates picks out the same computer, but uses her old model to order it online from an out-of-state company. Both are subject to sales tax. True or false.

        False. Mostly. Mr. Gates must pay sales tax on his purchase. Mrs. Gates is exempt from the sales tax. But, Mrs. Gates is liable for the use tax, which is the same 6 percent as the sales tax. If the seller does not collect the use tax, Mrs. Gates is supposed to pay the tax due directly to the state.

        • Two Ohio families visit Kentucky. One family stays in a motel. The other drives their recreational vehicle and stays at a campsite. Both pay sales tax on their accommodations, right?

        Wrong. The motel room is taxable. The campsite is considered to be rental of real property and exempt from taxation.

        The questions presented were actually some of the easier ones.

        Mr. Ramsey's point to the committee, which writes the tax laws of the commonwealth, was that tax reform and simplification should remain a goal.

        But, of course, there are different perspectives.

        “Some people say a good tax system is an oxymoron,” Mr. Ramsey said.


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